According to the United Nations, more than 80 million Africans are living with disabilities, including those with mental health conditions, as well as birth defects and other physical impairments.
“Persons with disabilities are disproportionately likely to live in poverty and, too often across Africa, do not have equal access to education, health care, employment opportunities, housing, social protection systems, justice, and cultural expression and participation in political life,” says the UN. “The ability of persons with disabilities to participate in society is often frustrated because physical environments, transportation and information and communications systems are not accessible.”
But throughout sub-Saharan Africa, there are facilities dedicated to serving this vulnerable population and a number of them are administered by Catholic sisters from ASEC’s Service Learning, Sisters Leadership Development Initiative (SLDI) and Higher Education for Sisters in Africa (HESA) programs.
ASEC's Service Learning program enables students, faculty and sisters from ASEC charter institutions to travel to the African countries ASEC serves. Through ASEC’s largest program, SLDI, Catholic women religious in Africa receive leadership and technology training to gain the practical skills and confidence to build strong networks and take up leadership roles. ASEC’s (HESA) program enables sisters to further their training through undergraduate and graduate level education at higher education institutions in Africa and online in the USA.
Among the many programs and communities throughout Africa benefiting from ASEC programs are four facilities specifically dedicated to serving persons with disabilities.
- Padre Pio Rehabilitation Centre – Cape Coast, Ghana
- Cheshire Home for Girls – Limuru, Kenya
- Providence Home for the Disabled – Nkokonjeru, Uganda
- St. Elizabeth Day Center for Children & Young Adults with Disabilities – Cape Coast, Ghana
Padre Pio Rehabilitation Centre – Cape Coast, Ghana
Padre Pio Rehabilitation Center serves both children and adults with physical and/or mental disabilities and older adults. In May-June, 2019, a team of volunteers from Chestnut Hill College and Marywood University traveled to Ghana to serve at the Padre Pio Center.
Accompanied by mentors, U.S. participants are immersed in a wide range of service opportunities, serving side-by-side with Catholic sisters. Service trips are held annually each summer for a 2-3 week period.
“I was preparing myself… that it would be emotional, especially knowing that people with special needs are often shunned for their disability, marginalized and forgotten," service trip participant Kirsten Gillern commented upon visiting the Padre Pio Rehabilitation Centre.
But after spending time serving at the Center, Ms. Gillern continued,
“The Padre Pio Centre held close the value of humanity and brotherhood, it felt like the heart of Ghana. I knew that because of the Padre Pio Centre, these children [with disabilities] were taken care of, and would continue to be happy.”
Cheshire Home for Girls – Limuru, Kenya
Cheshire Home for Girls provides a residential and training program for 35 young women and girls with varying mental and physical disabilities. Sr. Anne Kamene Musyoka, Assumption Sisters of Nairobi (ASN), became Director of the home after earning her B.A. in Development Studies at Catholic University of Eastern Africa through HESA.
Sr. Anne immediately went to work on implementing programs to help support the home and the girls who live there. She developed two unused acres surrounding the home to become a farm that not only feeds the girls, but also generates income to help sustain the home. And after raising funds to purchase ovens for the school, Sr. Anne teaches the girls to bake and they sell what they make to a local school.
Knowing about 90% of the girls at the home have experienced sexual abuse, Sr. Anne also prioritized mental health services. She reached out to a local university and they now send a team of five counselors to Cheshire Home regularly.
As a result of HESA, Sr. Anne looks at Cheshire Home with a keen eye for possibilities and potential for girls with disabilities.
Providence Home for the Disabled – Nkokonjeru, Uganda
The story of Providence Home for the Disabled begins in the early 1960s when Rwandese refugees fled to Uganda. Victims of all kinds of disabilities, the handicapped and the injured, found their way to the home. Today, Providence Home has a school for people with special needs, the physical and psychologically handicapped, orphans, the elderly, deaf, mentally ill and the blind. Its staff includes teachers, a sister nurse, caretakers for the elderly, social workers, an accountant and a driver. Providence Home also provides speech, occupational and physical therapy.
Sr. Elisabeth Swai, LSOSF, one of the administrators and a social worker at Providence Home, is a current HESA participant pursuing a Masters degree in Counseling Psychology at the University of Kisubi in Entebbe, Uganda. When the center began to struggle financially, Sr. Elisabeth was able to apply the knowledge she gained from her education to help launch alternative farm projects to support the home.
Providence Home now plants maize, vegetables, bananas, cassava, yams, sweet potatoes, rice, beans, sorghum and soya beans. They keep poultry, piggery, cows and a fish pond, have a greenhouse for tomatoes and a bakery for bread and cakes. All these products are consumed locally and the excesses are sold off to raise funds.
Sr. Elisabeth and the administration of Providence Home have plans to expand the services the school offers and continue to improve its economic self-sustainability.
St. Elizabeth Day Center for Children & Young Adults with Disabilities – Cape Coast, Ghana
At St. Elizabeth's, about 40 children up to age 17 receive outpatient services such as assistance with feeding, exercise therapy, endorphin release therapy, play and educational services for parents.
The Center assesses the children’s current abilities and sets goals with periodic progress reports for each child. Pictures of the children with their goals are posted around the playrooms.
The Center also serves young adults (up to 25 years old) in a vocational center where they teach participants life skills such as bead making, cooking and cleaning. They also help the young adults with disabilities with job acquisition.
Sr. Zabibu Mipute Juliette, Daughters of Mary and Joseph (DMJ), works at St. Elizabeth’s Center and is a current SLDI participant studying Administration.
While the Center has had financial struggles, Sr. Juliette says SLDI helps her to be accountable and know the value of all the donations they receive. She records the donations in Excel, a skill she learned in the technology workshop of the SLDI program. She also completed a strategic plan for her ministry after learning the process during SLDI training. Sr. Juliette sees herself as a steward and has been able to take responsibility for accounts.
Though perhaps Sr. Juliette’s greatest accomplishment is her advocacy work. She works tirelessly to advocate for the acceptance of children with disabilities in Ghana. As a result, the Center has seen an increase in donations along with an increase of understanding.
Sisters across Africa support individuals with physical and/or mental disabilities
But these are just four of the places where sisters from ASEC programs are making a difference for children with disabilities. Sisters who participate in ASEC's SLDI workshops learn how to raise their own funding for projects needed in their communities. They learn how to estimate project costs, find funding sources and write grant proposals. Participants also learn how to manage the projects and effectively report results back to the funder. After the second year of their three-year SLDI program, sisters also receive their own laptop that they can use to research the project, find funders and create reports. Here are a few SLDI alumnae who have done so:
- Sr. Elizabeth Motunrato Kehinde, DHS, has found supporters for the education of the children with disabilities in Nigeria.
- Sr. Clarina Ndona, LSOSF, has funded the creation of a kitchen for the children with disabilities at Livingstone Day Cheshire Homes in Zambia.
- Sr. Josephine MaryPhillip Awino, FSJ, has improved the learning environment of children with disabilities at Sr. Peter Claver Integrated Educational Complex in Kenya, which serves 312 and provides 18 jobs.
- Sr. Ludovena Anyango Onyino, FSA, found a donor to fund the construction of a classroom for children with disabilities in Kenya.
- Sr. Leonarda Ngoin Tubuo, SST, acquired grant funding for the creation of a physiotherapy room for children with disabilities at Holy Innocent's House, an Associated Rehabilitation Centre for the Handicapped in Cameroon.
ASEC’s Service Learning, SLDI and Higher HESA programs are bringing education, health care, employment opportunities and housing services to these facilities dedicated to serving persons with disabilities. Program participants are using their education and leadership, management and technology skills not only to assist this vulnerable population, but to provide long-lasting and sustainable operations at the facilities where they serve.